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Kayaking In Maine – Paddling “The Pine Tree State”

Mark Armstrong
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When you think of Maine, you probably think of lobster and rugged coastlines. And while the Pine Tree State does have a significant coast, there are also miles of inland rivers and lakes to be explored, with wild scenery of forests and mountains. It’s also one of the best places in the US to see moose in the wild.

We have found some of the best places to go kayaking in Maine. Whether you’re after a remote lake adventure or some whitewater, you should be able to find your ideal spot. 

A view on calm lake at the dawnPin

7 Best Places To Kayak In Maine

1: Acadia National Park, ME

Kayakers paddling at the Seal Harbor Beach in Acadia National Park, MEPin
Courtesy: Craig Stanfill on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Acadia National Park can be an exciting place to paddle, with stunning coastal scenery and chances to see marine life, such as dolphins, seals and occasionally whales.

There are several places you can launch your kayak within the park, including at Bar Harbor and Seal Harbor Beach. You can paddle around the numerous islands and into the many coves, stopping at quiet beaches along the way. You’ll also get great views of the cliffs and Cadillac Mountain.

Because it’s the ocean, it’s generally recommended that you have some sea kayaking experience before you head out. However, beginners can paddle with one of the many guided tours in the area, with options in Bar Harbor.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/II – sea kayaking (moderate to difficult depending on conditions and distance)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Seal Harbor Beach, Peabody Drive, Mount Desert, ME 04675.

2: Upper Richardson Lake

Upper Richardson Lake can be an incredibly scenic spot to paddle and is part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The water is calm and can be ideal for beginners, but with lots to explore, it can also be great for longer adventures if you’re an experienced paddler.

The lake features natural surroundings in a remote setting, with wildlife and places to camp along the shores.

The launch is at the northern end of the lake, on Mill Brook Road, just off Route 16, west of Rangeley. A good place to view wildlife is at Cranberry Cove, on the western shores. You can easily paddle there and back from the launch in around three hours or less.

Kayak rentals are available in Oquossoc on Rangeley Lake.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Mill Brook Road, North Oxford, ME 03579.

3: Sebago Lake

A view at the Sabago lake and boatsPin
Courtesy: Carlos Castro on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Sebago Lake is a large, deep lake, covering 45 square miles, meaning there’s plenty of space to explore. The lake offers forest scenery and there are lots of islands, quiet inlets and sheltered coves.

The water is generally flat, making it ideal for everyone. However, the center of the lake can often be windy, making paddling more difficult. There are a few places to launch, including at the public ramp in Raymond. You can also rent kayaks in the town.

Alternatively, you can launch at Sebago Lake State Park, at the northern end of the lake, where you can also access the Songo River and Crooked River.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Raymond Boat Launch, US-302, Raymond, ME 04071.

4: Saco River

Kayakers on the river of Saco on a sunny dayPin
Courtesy: Doug Kerr on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Saco River is generally calm and slow-moving, through natural scenery, not far from the White Mountain National Forest. However, there is a section between Steep Falls and Lymington that has Class II+ (V+) rapids that should only be paddled if you have whitewater experience.

For a relaxed paddling trip, you can launch at Swan’s Falls Campground in Fryeburg. Kayak rentals and tours are available in Fryeburg, near the launch.

The river offers several trip durations, with riverside camping available for multi-day trips. It’s roughly a three-day paddle from Swan’s Falls to Hiram but there are shorter sections for half-day or full-day trips.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I-II (easy) (some sections with V+ (difficult))

Where to launch & how to get there:

Swan’s Falls Canoe Launch, 198 Swans Falls Road, Fryeburg, ME 04037.

5: Moosehead Lake

Moosehead Lake is the largest lake in Maine, covering 117 square miles. It has fantastic scenery and great fishing (known for its landlocked salmon).

There are several launches around the lake, as well as many campgrounds for overnight adventures. The Moosehead Lake area can be an excellent place to see wildlife, especially moose (there are more moose than people).

The open waters of the lake can often be windy, but there are plenty of sheltered bays and coves for easier paddling. One place to launch is at the boat ramp in Greenville, where there’s lots of parking. Greenville also has kayak outfitters for rentals and tours.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Greenville Junction Boat Ramp, 22 ME-6, Greenville Junction, ME 04442.

6: Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area

Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area can offer excellent paddling opportunities, with the area having more remote ponds than anywhere else in New England.

There are thousands of acres of forests, with wildlife and unspoilt scenery at every turn, as well as plenty of space to paddle, with lakes that can be linked by waterways or short portages.

You can even choose to follow the Debsconeag Loop, a multi-day paddling trail that begins at the launch on the eastern shores of Spencer Cove on Ambajejus Lake. You can also rent kayaks opposite the launch. You’ll find designated places to camp along the lake shores.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class I/Flatwater (easy)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Golden Road, Millinocket, ME 04462 (the launch is opposite the kayak rental office).

7: Dead River

Whitewater rafting at Dead RiverPin
Courtesy: ActiveSteve on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Dead River can be one of the best places for inflatable whitewater kayaking in Maine, being home to the most continuous whitewater stretch in the Northeast. This can make it a popular place for rafting.

The rapids run for 15 miles between Grand Falls and the confluence of the Kennebec River, with Class III to V whitewater along the entire section.

The put-in is located near to the Grand Falls Hut, where you can stay overnight or grab lunch. The take-out is at Magic Falls Rafting Center, just before the river joins the Kennebec River at The Forks.

Inflatable kayak tours and raft trips can be found along Route 201 near The Forks.

Class of Rapids rating:

Class III to V (moderate to difficult)

Where to launch & how to get there:

Whitewater Put-In, Dead River Township, ME 04961. Just before Grand Falls Maine Hut.

Maine: What Are The Kayak Laws?

US Coast GuardPin

We have included some of the most important kayaking laws in Maine. But this is just for reference and you should always check out the rules for yourself before you paddle in any location.

  • PFD (USCG-approved) is required to be carried on board for each person in any vessel. The PFD must be worn on the Saco River between the Hiram Dam and Atlantic Ocean between January 1st and June 1st.
  • All children under 11 must wear a USCG-approved PFD while on any kayak or canoe.
  • Boating Under the Influence is against the law. You’ll be considered intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. If you’re under 21, this applies to any amount of alcohol in your system.
  • Registration is not necessary for non-motorized kayaks.
  • white light, such as a flashlight, is required for night paddling.
  • whistle (or other sound-producing device) is required on Maine waters.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around ME

There are several places where you rent kayaks or join a kayak tour in Maine.

You’ll also find a few places where you can rent for several days, with options for delivery or self-transportation to your choice of paddling location.

Wrapping Up

Maine can be an exciting place to paddle, with a wide range of paddling trails and waterways to suit everyone, from beginners to highly experienced kayakers.

There are also miles of remote wilderness areas to check out, making it perfect for multi-day camping trips.

We’ve just given a sample of the paddling that Maine has to offer, so let us know when you find any other great spots during your adventures, as we’d love to check them out too. Share this to help others discover these awesome spots.

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